It took me a while to find it. Finally buried at the bottom of one of those huge blue bags Amazon uses to wrap particularly large gifts, I saw its faded orange fur nestled among the cast of stuffed animals my elder boy has stashed away from his youth. Much like Woody or Buzz, its bulbous white eye peeked out, looking as if it was yearning after such a prolonged slumber to be played with again.
As I’ve noted before, that fuzzy hand puppet—The Tickle Monster— pretty much saved my coaching career. It helped me see that learning something hard didn’t have to be “work.” That teaching a sport didn’t have to be a “pure” activity; you could still get a little silly (indeed, at times a lot silly) and respect the game you loved. That having “games within games” keeps kids interested and, more importantly, wanting to come back for more.
That the most important part of coaching fundamentals lies in the F-U-N.
And so I flexed my fingers into my old orange friend, careful not to expand the small tear in the inner fabric, and prepared to head off to my new job:
CoachN is going pro!
Still working for you, big guy!
My new path actually sprouted from my current vocation—aspiring author. Still struggling to get my novel–The Adventures of MightyDove–the light of day, I read that a number of writers wiled away the frustration of the hunt by, yes, starting on another book. But while I’ve developed the idea for a sequel, it just somehow felt like the height of hubris to continue the story when its first installment has been read by a grand total of about 20 people.
Then, last summer, we were up in New York and had the chance to get together with some old friends. Patty Chang Anker is somewhat of a role model for me, having parlayed her wonderful blog, Facing 40 Upside Down, into Some Nerve, a riveting memoir about facing fear. We were, of course, talking writing, and she asked me, “Do you see the book you’ve written as the first of many, or is this story a calling?”
I asked what she meant by that, and she replied, “Well, for me, my book is a calling. I feel it’s the base of something larger that I can do to help people to face their fears. It’s more than words on a page. It’s a mission.”
And while I felt my book had a great lesson in it that I truly and still believe could make a great contribution to the way kids look at violence and heroism, first and foremost, I look at The Adventures of MightyDove as a great story. It feels important to me, but I really couldn’t call it a calling.
Indeed, whenever I had heard the word “calling” attached to my name, it’s been in relation to my ability to connect with young kids. I remember years ago Patty’s husband Kent seeing me playing with their young daughter and saying, “Dude, you need to open up a daycare center or something.” And from teaching kids Passover’s four questions by repeating them in progressively sillier voices, to our 5th Grade Pow Wow for the future of early America, my boys’ teachers have encouraged me to join the profession on more than one occasion.
In my element
But while those occasions have been memorable, where my connection with kids has felt most natural has always been on the baseball field. Combining my unbridled goofiness with my unabashed love for the game, coaching has felt closer to a calling than anything else in my life. Indeed, from being relentlessly teased by my high school teammates for my love of Star Trek, to running around in full spandex and fake moustache for my son’s Super Mario Sluggers birthday party, it feels sometimes as if my entire life has revolved around being the Nerd in Jockland.
It was then that it occurred to me. Perhaps–just perhaps–coaching is a calling. And perhaps there might even be more to it than just than just coaching kids. If espousing the virtues of being the nerd on the field to others who might, like I did in the beginning, feel a little reluctant to jump into coaching, perhaps I can help inspire other, even more creative Moms and Dads to rise up, pull our shorts and socks up just a little bit too high, and bring their own magic to youth sports.
Nothing sells a modern parenting/sports memoir like arcane references to 1960s Kubrick movies!
And with that, I whipped up a proposal for CoachN(erd): Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Little League (Okay, I love the title, but I may be the only one), a memoir about my journey with tips new coaches can use to help them find their mojo. And when I actually had an agent take a look, I got a surprisingly positive reaction. But, like with a proposal I came up with on how to run a great birthday party, I the agent noted that with memoirs like this, she sells more than the book, but the person as well. I needed more than to be just “that dad who coaches baseball.”
My wife for some time told me that “I could make a business” out of what I do with kids, be it baseball or bithdays, though after one “how to run a business” seminar, I was sufficiently traumatized by the business-end to put any such thoughts on a very slow simmer.
But the idea of being more than a volunteer coach seemed just intriguing enough for me to peek my head out of my shell, especially when both my boys decided they wanted a different coaching experience come spring (a separate story altogether I’ll expound upon later). And so I arranged a chat with Mike Murray, the owner/director of the Virginia Baseball Club. My boys had been going to VBC for years, and Mike runs one of the best organized and well run baseball training programs I’ve seen.
When I showed Mike my plan for a “Ready for Baseball/Softball” program for the really little ones, he was very supportive. Other than my own nerves, I had trouble figuring out a reason not to give this a try.
Thanks to the great work of the convey2web.com crew, I’m getting all professional and junk.
And so, with the drudgery of a business license and insurance behind me, CoachN’s FUNdamentals was born. Poof, the socialist hippie tree-hugger becomes a small business owner.
Am I called? Am I crazy? This week, I’m doing my first back-to-back class, first with a group of a dozen preschoolers, then 14 kindergarten and first-graders. So check back this weekend, and I’ll let you know (if I survive).
In the meantime, in addition to my random thoughts on movies, books, and dead frogs, you’ll be getting more views about coaching here, especially, of course, about baseball. So if you have an aspiring little slugger, perhaps my stories can help them a bit on the baseball or softball field. And maybe, just maybe, it might help give you enough courage to and flop and fumble as I have into making a real difference in children’s lives.